(Picture is of construction site for new complex to house Costco in East Harlem.)
About a month back, I wrote on Costco’s plans to open up a new store in Harlem. Of course, there was a catch: The store refused to take food stamps, even though nearly 30,000 East Harlem residents receive such assistance. A corporate spokesperson cited the cost of new technology—you know, the same technology that the corner bodegas have installed without a hitch. The same technology that the state provides free of charge.
Unfortunately, I stopped following this case. Fortunately, some of my readers didn’t. It turns out that Costco is beginning to fold under local political pressure, unfavorable media attention, and, well, the recession. Good. In two New York City neighborhoods—Astoria, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn—Costco will being accepting food stamps on a trial basis. If the transition runs smoothly, the Harlem store will adopt the new corporate policy.
Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that a Costco membership remains $50/year. It goes without saying that this price tag might be a bit steep for some food stamp recipients. That said, I definitely know folks that have been on welfare that can very easily swing 50 bucks a year. With the right information, I really think a substantial amount of Harlem residents will benefit from Costco’s services. Either way, the material effect of Costco in Harlem—in the form of employment opportunities and/or services—has yet to be determined.
Still, this is a positive development, if only symbolic. As Tony has written about a couple of times here at Social Science Lite, symbolic gestures are important. They shouldn’t be treated as the end to inequality, but they’re certainly a start.